So you want to know what orienteering is all about?


Well….. the basic idea is to navigate your way around a course, most often in the woods, but also in towns, parks and open rugged countryside, using a specially drawn map which shows features such as streams, fences, boulders and crags. You have to start at the Start, finish at the Finish and visit a series of control points along the way, but it’s entirely up to you how you get from point to point and whether you run as fast as you can, or have a gentle stroll and enjoy the outdoors.

How can I give it a go?

The easiest way is to come along to any of our events. Newcomers are welcome at all of our events, and there’ll be someone available to help you get started.

If you want to try it out in your own time, you can visit one of our Permanent Orienteering Courses across the county.

Where do events take place?

We hold events all over North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.

The areas vary from vast Parkhall Country Park, to the open parks of Stoke-on-Trent, to the streets of the towns of Newcastle, Staffs Moorlands and Stoke-on-Trent.

What to bring?

Dress as if you were going for a cross country run. Usually orienteers wear long trousers and gaiters though to counter brambles:

  • Trainers or lightweight boots and tracksuit bottoms or similar that you don’t mind getting a bit muddy
  • A compass if you have one for orientating the map. Don’t worry if you don’t: it isn’t essential on most courses
  • A drink/snack for afterwards
  • And a few pounds to pay for your map.

DibberWhat to expect at your first event….

Having parked, go to the registration tent to register. You’ll be asked to register with your name plus some other details and which course you want to try. If you dont have a dibber (the electronic device which you carry round with you to show you have been to a control) then you can hire one off us. Don’t be afraid to ask advice about which course is the best for you. To begin with try the Easy or Moderate courses as they have the easiest navigation. Easy is suitable for children and beginner adults, while moderate is perfect for confident adult beginners. There is absolutely nothing to stop you doing more than one course at a local event. So if you come along and do an Easy course and decide it wasnt enough of a challenge then by all means register for another harder course. As our local events are non serious training events then the fact that someone might have gained an advantage by being out in the terrain twice is neither here nor there. These are small events where the results are less important than at higher level events. After you've registered you’ll be told where the start is and at our local events you can usually start in your own time. So you can go back to your car, get all your kit ready and then go to the start. The volunteers running the start will ask what course you are on and when you are ready to start you can. To start you will dib the start which is when your time officially begins and you will either be handed a map or told which map to pick up. 

Example of MapThe map … will look a little strange at first with colours and symbols that might as well be hieroglyphics, but you should be able to recognise tracks, paths, streams and contours. There should be a legend printed down the side to explain the other features but for beginners courses you’ll be using linear features so make sure you know what a track, path, stream, fence and a wall look like and forget about the rest for the time being. The other thing you should note about your map is the scale – most of our events use 1:10,000 scale maps to get the necessary detail in. That means that 1cm on the map represents 100m on the ground. Imagine what the 100m dash looked like on the school playing field and that should help you judge the distance you need to go between controls. Some maps, particularly urban parks use a larger scale, perhaps 1 :5000.

Here’s a sample map extract showing the last 4 controls on a course. Some courses are harder than others and this one is towards the harder end. We have a range of courses at each of our events, as described in the details for each event. Just ask at the event if you’re not sure which to do. But if you really want to know more now, see British Orienteering’s Newcomer’s Guide.
Map and Controls

The control descriptions…. will show a list of controls and you must visit them in that order. Control sites are marked by special orange and white “kites” to make them easier to spot at a distance. Each control on the list will have a number or letter code next to it. When you actually reach that control, it will have a code physically attached to it so you know you’ve got the right one. The list also gives a brief description of the feature that you’re looking for, e.g. path/stream junction, fence bend, to help you home in on it once you’re in the right area on the map. Sometimes the descriptions are written in plain English, but at some events, they are in the form of a pictorial code – just ask someone for a translation.

The dibber…. should be attached to your finger using the strap. Every time you get to a control, including the Start and Finish, place the dibber into hole on the electronic unit. Make sure that the unit flashes. Before the Start, you will have to clear any previous timing held in your dibber at the Clear station. Again, don’t be afraid to ask for help on the use of these – there is always someone hanging around to help.

Starts…. generally you can start whenever you like after you have registered and got your dibber. However, there will be a last start cutoff time and also a time when all courses close, as obviously the people organising would like to get home sometime the same day! If you want you can leave your car keys at registration before setting off.

Finish…. once you’ve punched the Finish control, go to the download point (often the same place as registration) and hand in your dibber. You will be given your time on a slip of paper which also shows how long it took you between each control. IMPORTANT – Even if you don’t finish your course, you must still go to download to hand in your dibber – this is the only method we have of knowing that you’re back safe and sound and we don’t need to call out International Rescue !

What is a Colour Coded Course?

Most POTOC local events offer 4 courses : Easy, Moderate, Short Hard and Long Hard. At higher level events however courses are denoted by a colour. Usually the colours run from White to Brown.

There are 2 elements to consider when thinking about the difficulty of an orienteering course: its length and how hard the navigation is. Easy navigation is defined in orienteering as technical difficulty 1 (TD1). At TD1 all controls are on paths and at every decision point , for example a path junction, there will be a control. Most people start out at this level to get used to map reading. The hardest technical difficulty is TD5. Here is a list of the typical range of colour coded courses and their technical difficulties:

White TD1 - Easy navigation, all controls on paths, a control at every decision point.

Yellow TD2 - Easy navigation, all controls on paths, some decisions to be made about which path to take.

Orange TD3 - Slightly harder navigation, controls may be just off a path or line feature on the map

Light Green TD4 - Controls may be some way off a path and some interpretation of contours may be necessary

TD5 - all other courses from Short Green to Brown. 

An orienteering course at the hardest technical difficulty will test a competitor by requiring them to run off paths, through a forest or across open moorland with no line features to guide them. It may require the competitor to take compass bearings and to interpret contours and other features on the map to succesfully find control sites. The difference between a Short Green and Brown course is therefore only in its length.


What should I wear?

A pair of trainers or lightweight boots and jogging bottoms or similar will do fine to begin with. You might also want to bring a light cagoule if it looks like rain and something to change into afterwards as it can be a bit muddy at any time of year.

Do I need to know how to use a compass?

Most competitors find a compass is necessary in orienteering to orientate the map to magnetic north. This ensures that you do not run off in completely the wrong direction. However, if you do not have a compass then most easy courses can still be completed quite successfully. 

Who can take part?

Pretty well anybody can take part in our orienteering events – there is usually a short course of 1km or so on main paths aimed at kids plus a series of courses getting progressively longer and more technical.

Is it really competitive?

Yes and No! If you find that you and orienteering click, you can progress beyond small local events to regional events. Regional events attract competitors from a wider area and are usually held in more technically complex and larger areas. The courses at these events are often denoted by a colour hence the term a "colour coded event". At more serious events competitors run in their age classes, for example M45 (males between 45 and 50). There are British Championships held once a year which usually attract over 1000 competitors. These are open to all however so its well worth going to one of the bigger events to see what a higher level of event is all about. 

On the other hand, many of our members are more than happy to take part for the simple pleasure of being outdoors and getting a bit of exercise both physically and mentally.

How much does it cost?

Local events typically cost £5 per adult per course or £2.50 for juniors. If you do not have your own dibber you can lend one from us free of charge for the event. The larger events cost more (but if you join the club you get a discount.) Entry fees are usually advertised in the event details. If you want to join POTOC then there is a small annual fee – check the Become a POTOC Member page for current fees.

Can I practise anywhere else apart from the organised events?

There are plenty of Permanent Orienteering Courses (POCs) in the area where you can practice any time you wish. You can see a map showing their locations here

Where can I look up all these new terms and abbreviations I keep coming across?

Like most sports, there is plenty of jargon – British Orienteering jargon buster

Read more about it….

Oli Johnson is one of Britain’s top orienteers. Read Oli’s Beginners Guide

Read British Orienteering’s New to Orienteering Guide

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